Jeff Kassouf
Wednesday August 25th, 2010

FC Gold Pride and the Boston Breakers have played some of the most attractive soccer since the WPS All-Star Game on June 30. A lot of that has to do with the versatility both teams have showed in changing their formations.

The Pride, playing what was called a 4-4-2 formation on paper, clinched the regular-season title with a 3-2 victory against the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday. But, as with any time FC Gold Pride steps on the field, players flow freely throughout the pitch, creating a dynamic approach that mimics more of a 4-3-3.

Similarly, Boston has found success with a very open, attacking system. The Breakers hit their groove early last month when Leslie Osborne returned to add a defensive presence to an attack that included Kelly Smith, Lindsay Tarpley, Lauren Cheney, Kristine Lilly and surprise rookie Jordan Angeli. Since July 4, Boston is 7-2-1, has scored 24 goals and has climbed into third place in WPS.

FC Gold Pride will host the WPS championship Sept. 26, but the team won't find out its opponent until just a few days before the match when the winner of WPS Super Semifinal is determined. If any significant changes need to be made entering the match, the regular-season champions should be ready.

"This year we have played a 4-3-3, a 4-5-2, a 4-5-1, a 3-5-2, and we have been successful for the most part," FC Gold Pride coach Albertin Montoya said last week. "Now it is just making sure that we really get a couple of systems down where we can make some adjustments."

Similarly, Boston's impressive attack allows the Breakers to stay in any match, as evidenced by two late goals in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Beat. Boston trailed 3-0 in the 86th minute, but Tarpley and Lilly struck to make things interesting and the Breakers were denied a third by some great goalkeeping from Hope Solo.

Officially, Boston's lineup card read as a 4-4-2 on Saturday, but in actuality it was anything but that. The Breakers lined up in a 4-5-1 with Lauren Cheney as the target forward. It is a system that, with playmaker Kelly Smith (who was away on English national team duty), plays like a 4-3-3 as Lilly, Angeli and Tarpley get into the attack.

With the ability to play an attacking threat like Fabiana at right back and allowing her to overlap into the attack, the Breakers have offensive options from the back, forward. So, too, does FC Gold Pride as all four backs are offensive threats in their own way.

As mid-September rolls around and one game decides everything in the playoffs, teams that can score at any moment and play any formation like FC Gold Pride and the Boston Breakers should find the most success.

With that said, second-place Philadelphia and its traditional 4-4-2 formation should not be overlooked. However, if Philadelphia hits a wall and finds itself searching for answers during a game, it may have less flexibility than Boston and FC Gold Pride. Those teams will more than likely be the top three vying for the championship, so time will tell which tactical scheme will prevail.

1. FC Gold Pride clinches first place. With three weeks left in the regular season, FC Gold Pride clinched the top spot with that win at Chicago. With the loss, Chicago is essentially eliminated from the playoffs, as it is four points behind the Washington Freedom and Sky Blue FC with two games remaining. Washington has three games left, Sky Blue FC four.

2. Atlanta confident in its new coach. Beat coach James Galanis made a successful debut Saturday with a 3-2 win over Boston. Beat forward Eniola Aluko was named WPS Player of the Week after scoring Saturday's game-winner. She already sees the affect Galanis has had on the team, which is still in last place. "I think all over the world when you see new managers come in, this is what happens," Aluko said. "The team starts winning. And that is the effect James has had on this team."

3. Washington continues to improve. The Freedom gave coach Jim Gabarra a vote of confidence Aug. 10 after the team endured a five-game losing streak and 10-game winless streak during June and July. Washington snapped those streaks with a 2-0 win over Philadelphia on Aug. 4 and is now unbeaten in four after Thursday's 2-0 win over Chicago.

4. Sky Blue FC finally solves Philadelphia. In the first three meetings between Philadelphia and New Jersey rival Sky Blue FC, the Independence won by a combined score of 10-3. Sky Blue FC avoided the sweep Sunday with a 1-0 home win, thanks to a stunning volley from Yael Averbuch. The victory drew Sky Blue FC level on points with Washington for the fourth and final playoff spot, but the Freedom have played one more game. The two teams face off at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Maryland SoccerPlex in a match that could determine who will claim the fourth spot.

5. Individual stars aplenty in 2010. Last season, only Los Angeles Sol forward Marta scored double-digit goals (10 in 19 games) in winning the league scoring title. This year, Marta, now a member of FC Gold Pride, leads the league with 15 goals through 20 games. Philadelphia's Amy Rodriguez has 12 while Boston's Kelly Smith and Washington's Abby Wambach have 10 apiece. League-wide scoring is at 2.49 goals per game, up from 2.14 in 2009.

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